Victims, Tattoos and Survivors

One of our number has had a one-word tattoo done on her wrist.  It says “survivor”.

Others among us have asked if she’d mind if they copied her, such is the strength of feeling about it.

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I don’t want a tattoo.  I don’t consider myself a survivor in a strong sense of the word at all.  But I do understand those rallying – on other message boards – to remove the word “victim” that people often put after “stroke”.

Do I sound like a victim to you?  Of anything?

I’ve blogged about the power of labels before.  But other than the girls and their tattoos, and someone else pointing out very loudly that he “wasn’t a bl**dy victim, thank you very much”, I had cause to think about it all again the other day.

I was getting bloods done at the nurses surgery attached to my doctor’s surgery.  They were doling out flu jabs and, having had a stroke I’m supposed to have one.  When that flashed up on the screen the nurse looked at me kinda funny:

Weird,” she said, “This thing thinks you had a stroke.

“I did.” I said.

No, it thinks you had an actual stroke.

“Yeah, I did.”

You’re too young for a stroke.

“Yep.  Happened anyway. VAD.”

God, when?

“Two years and three weeks ago.”

Blimey.  Wait here a sec.

And off she went to the nurse in charge to find out what to do next.

We’ve a young girl here [she said this, I promise!] who’s a stroke victim.  She’s really young and she looks great.  Do you think she needs the flu jab or not?

“Well.  Stroke victims get it.  But let me check.”

Right… Besides the overuse of the word ‘victim’, check what?  And why do I get prickly every time someone uses that word in relation to me?

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a ‘victim’ as:

  • a person harmed, injured, or killed as a result of a crime, accident, or other event or action:victims of domestic violenceearthquake victims
  • a person who is tricked or duped:the victim of a hoax
  • a person who has come to feel helpless and passive in the face of misfortune or ill-treatment:I saw myself as a victim[as modifier]:a victim mentality

I suppose that whilst the first bullet point is technically factual, I tend to associate the word with the second or third bullet points.  As do, it seems, a lot of my new stroke-made friends.  And I suppose that’s one of the reasons we hate it.  

When it all first happens you are in other people’s hands.  Then you’re either helpless or having to make a conscious choice to hand over responsibility to someone else.  I was  definitely the latter; I fought to stay in charge even though it was flipping hard work until I finally had a neuro who told me exactly what was going on and that he was “taking me back to his hospital”. That was 19 hours after I got to the ED so it had taken some time for everyone, including me, to realise that it wasn’t nothing that was going on.  But after he said that I pretty much blanked out for 24 hours, probably because I knew I didn’t have to be in charge any more.  But as soon as you can – and in my case within a day or so, all heparined up, you take it back because – lovely as everyone might be – you’re in charge of you.  You might not be able to walk or even sit up, but as soon as you can talk – and luckily I could, if a little slowly for a while – you can be in charge of you.  

Does that sound like a victim to you?  No, me neither.  And it’s been 2 years people.  How long do you want to apply the label?!

Anyway, I got the jab.  We also worked out I was a little older than they thought I was, but anyone else who wants to think I’m still in my 20s may go ahead with my blessing! And I wondered if I should ask them to drop the word ‘victim’ from their stroke vocabulary.

I didn’t of course.  They were lovely and I didn’t really think it through very hard while I was there.  But there is something utterly disempowering about attaching that label.  In the same way, it feels somewhat overegging the situation to attach the word survivor in my case.

So victim is kind of insulting, if I’m honest.

Survivor definitely applies to some, but not to me.  

Most of us just get on with it.  Simple as.  No labels required.

Thanks though.

 

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3 comments on “Victims, Tattoos and Survivors

  1. Norma Ritter on said:

    Good for you, Charley!
    The words we use to define ourselves and what we do are very important.
    One of my pet peeves is hearing people being defined by a medical condition. For example, *a Down Syndrome baby* instead of *a baby who has Down Syndrome.*
    You are not *a stroke victim,* you are a person who happens to have had a stroke and survived it. Having had a stroke is only a part of who you are. You are so much more than that!
    Language matters!

  2. Thanks for this. I just had a VAD and stroke as well and have been hunting for information and others. People have trouble understanding the whole stroke-in-young-person-who-looks-ok thing with me too. And I totally agree with your thoughts on the word victim.

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